This game was a carbon copy of last night’s. A great start was squandered by a dearth of offense and the bullpen, but that wasn’t even the biggest story. Regardless of the outcome, the Nationals are not playing in a way that gets any team consistent wins. The pitching has been great, as we all know it is, but the offense is the pits. Sometimes, they simply don’t get runners on, and therefore never score any runs. Sometimes, like recently, they get runners on but somehow can’t drive them in. They were a horrid 1-13 with runners in scoring position tonight, and are 6-66 in their last nine games (h/t Adam Kilgore for that stat). Why? What on earth is going on that the Nationals simply can’t hit, and when they do, can’t with runners in scoring position? They are 27th in baseball in runs scored and batting average. They are 26th in batting average with runners on, and 25th in OPS with runners on. They even jump in the ranks with runners in scoring position, placing 23rd in batting average and 22nd in OPS. Perhaps the team is suffering from a lack of exceptional hitters. Every single Nat position player except Chad Tracy who started tonight was hitting at least .260, and five of those seven were hitting .278 or above. One of the players hitting below that line, Bryce Harper at .268 (?!?), is leading the team in OBP and SLG by significant margins. However, no Nat is hitting above .293. No one has an OBP higher than .373. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals started a lineup with five players hitting above .300. But on last year’s Nats, there were still only seven players with a batting average over .260. They were better, with all of those seven hitting over .270, and with the best hitter at .300, but they were 10th in baseball in runs scored. How is there such a huge gulf? I really don’t know. Finally below .500 as they’ve played like, and with tons more questions than answers, the Nats are making hope harder and harder to find.
Jul 20, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth (28) yells at home plate umpire Chad Fairchild (not pictrued) after shortstop Ian Desmond (20) strikes out in the tenth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Most Important Nationals Hit: Scott Hairston‘s strikeout (-14.7%)
The final chance the Nats missed last night was not the biggest, because all of their chances were equally sized: just one base hit to get a run. But it was last, so it took precedence in WPA. Ian Desmond reached on a single and stole second base, giving the Nats a runner in scoring position with one out. A groundout moved him to third, and a walk put runners on the corners for the pinch-hitting Hairston. A ball to the outfield would have given the Nats the lead, but Hairston whiffed and the Nats failed to score.
Most Important Nationals Pitch: Hanley Ramirez‘s RBI double (-21.9%)
This game was different from the previous one in that Rafael Soriano pitched a clean ninth, but the losing runs were yielded in the tenth. Craig Stammen had struggled somewhat of late, allowing runs in six of his last nine appearances, but Davey Johnson trusted him enough to go in the tenth. Unfortunately he would not deliver on this faith, giving up doubles to the first two batters he faced. Ramirez’s was the second, driving in a run to take a 2-1 lead. Ian Krol would then replace Stammen, but gave up a sac fly to make the score 3-1.
Champ of the Game: Sadly lost in all of this was how good Gio Gonzalez (+27.7%) was. He pitched six shutout innings, giving up just four hits and two walks while striking out eleven. While his effort was ultimately futile, it’s good to maintain perspective and appreciate the good in the Nats. Ramirez (+24.9%) was 3-5 for LA, with an RBI and a run scored that both took place in the tenth inning.
Chump of the Game: Stammen (-39.1%) gave up the game-breaking runs in the tenth. He was charged for both as earned, but the sac fly was given up by Krol, so his WPA is a result of just the one run and runner on third with one out. Yasiel Puig (-27.6%) was 0-5 with three strikeouts. It was another small bit of joy to deflate another team’s young phenom, while Harper was 1-4 and -1.6%.